September 27, 2019 / 3:05 AM / 20 days ago

Australia shares gain as trade optimism lifts mood; NZ steady

* Energy stocks rise on firmer oil prices

* Three of Australia’s Big Four banks in positive territory

* Miners, gold stocks trade lower on global political woes

By Nikhil Subba

Sept 27 (Reuters) - Australian shares advanced on Friday, with technology and utility sectors leading gains, as investors cheered hints of progress in talks to resolve the Sino-U.S. tariff dispute.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.4% or 27.8 points at 6,705.4, as of 0257 GMT, but was set for its first weekly decline after marking five consecutive weekly gains. The benchmark closed 0.5% lower on Thursday.

Australian stocks are particularly sensitive to developments on the Sino-U.S. trade front, since China is Australia’s largest trading partner.

The Chinese commerce ministry said Beijing and Washington are still discussing details of upcoming trade talks in October, and making preparations to ensure “positive progress” is made during the negotiations.

U.S. President Donald Trump had stoked trade hopes on Wednesday when he told reporters the two sides were having “good conversations” and that an agreement “could happen sooner than you think”.

The United States and China are preparing for another round of high-level trade talks in early October in Washington to try to find a way out of their nearly 15-month trade war.

“Markets are cautiously optimistic ... there are some signs the trade resolution could be certainly moving in the right direction,” said James Tao, market analyst, CommSec.

“There’s no major indication that we are necessarily going to reach a deal or be closer to a deal, but that’s just the market’s interpretation of what we’ve seen from both sides,” Tao added.

The Australian technology and utility sub-indexes advanced more than 1% each. Energy infrastructure firm AusNet Services Ltd climbed as much as nearly 2%, while logistics software maker Wisetech Global advanced as much as 2.5%.

The energy sector jumped about 1%, hoisted by firmer oil prices over concerns of a Middle East conflict disrupting supply.

Heavyweights in the energy sector Woodside Petroleum and Santos Ltd each rose nearly 1%.

Three of Australia’s Big Four lenders were trading higher, lifting the banking subindex about 0.3%.

Meanwhile, stocks in the mining space were dragged 0.2% lower, dented by a drop in copper prices as investors focused on a dismal demand outlook.

Gold stocks dropped 1.3% to their lowest since Sept 19, with the bullion being on track to end the week lower as investors preferred the safety of the dollar in the wake of political uncertainties in the United States.

The dollar was holding near multi-week highs against most major currencies. New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was little changed at 10,821.36.

Electricity retailer Meridian Energy declined about 5%, while Hallenstein Glasson Holdings Ltd rose up to 1.7% after the retailer posted a 6.1% rise in its full-year NPAT and a 3.4% climb in annual sales.

$1 = 1.5911 New Zealand dollars Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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